Let the infighting begin

Democrats don’t agree on school reform, writes RiShawn Biddle in his analysis of the mid-term elections. Republican infighting has just begun.

The fact that so many Democrats lost despite the $24 million spent by both unions on their behalf in the last week (and $40 million by the NEA alone this year) is one more sign that the NEA and AFT are no longer useful to the party. That President Obama’s school reform agenda remains the only popular aspect of an overall agenda that has been largely rejected by voters this year — along with the fact that reform-oriented candidates such as Joe Manchin and Chris Coons have won their respective races — also means that the two unions will have fewer supporters inside the party ranks.

Centrist and progressive Democrat school reformers see education as a civil rights issue, which makes improving teacher quality a civil rights issue. “But the NEA and the AFT are the biggest obstacles to the much-needed overhauls in teacher recruitment, training and compensation that are critical to the school reform agenda,” Biddle writes.

Republicans are split too. Rep. John Kline, the likely chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, opposes No Child Left Behind’s accountability provisions. In a statement, he called for local control.

Expect a clash within the congressional Republican camp as reform-minded conservatives of the standards-and-accountability bent (including soon-to-be speaker John Boehner, who helped usher in No Child when he was education committee chairman) battle over policy with the Kline camp (who represent suburban districts that have long-opposed reform efforts) and movement conservatives with small government leanings and a desire to dial back federal policy in all areas.

Boehner is a politically savvy education reformer, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. But he won’t rule by fiat.

. . . many of Tuesday’s winners are coming to Washington set on cutting federal spending, which means that unlike in the past, big infusions of cash will not be available to help grease the wheels for political deals around education reform.

Don’t expect any big education bills, Rotherham writes. The Education Department doesn’t know how to work with Congress and the two parties are divided internally on education policy.

Guest-blogging on Rick Hess Straight Up, Andrew Kelly, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow, analyzes the state results. Ohio and Florida, recent Race to the Top winners, elected governors who could revamp state education policies and end union “buy-in,” Kelly writes.

In Oklahoma, 81 percent of voters rejected a proposition that would have required the state to maintain per-pupil funding levels comparable to the five neighboring states. Republican Janet Barresi, founder of two successful charter schools, was elected state superintendent. She promises to expand parental choice, including homeschooling.

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  1. Successful reform in the US education industry will come from individual States. Congress under either party is hopeless. With few exceptions, people don’t succeed in national-level politics without an enormous ego, so the process preferentially selects control freaks, and central control is exactly what the education industry, with its critical dependance upon enormously variable inputs (individual children’s interests, abilities, and moods) and outputs (the possible career paths in a modern economy) does not need. Central control is strongly counter-indicated. Fold the NCES into the Department of Commerce and abolish the rest of the Department of Education, I say.